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Source: US Amalgamated Transit Union

Unhappy with their treatment through the COVID-19 pandemic, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1776 members voted no confidence Sunday in Grand Valley Transit General Manager Valdo Lewis.

Local 1776 President Judi DeRusha reports that 94% of local chapter members voted no confidence in Lewis to perform his duties. This comes after a comment he made as the union negotiates for higher pay and safer working conditions for its drivers.

Negotiations will continue this week with TrasnDev, GVT’s contractor.

“Our members have been heroes on the frontlines, providing essential transportation to keep our community moving,” DeRusha said in a press release.

She represents the GVT drivers employed by TransDev.

“If our general manager really thinks our people like working six days a week, he’s out of touch with reality. The reality is we have to work six days a week to make ends meet.”

DeRusha called Lewis’s comment, that workers enjoy working six days a week, “appalling” and said he failed to maintain safety and morale as COVID cases impact the transportation industry nationwide.

She said she felt that the economic fallout of the pandemic is hitting low-wage workers the hardest.

“When everything is a struggle, like putting food on the table and paying your utilities, this doesn’t contribute to high morale,” DeRusha said. “How do you expect to retain drivers when you do not pay them what other drivers with (commercial driver’s licenses) make?”

She said Grand Valley Transit workers are among the lowest-paid fixed-route bus operators in the county, and they were promised wage increases this cycle by TransDev.

The starting salary for GVT drivers is reported to be $13.39, after a 39-cent cost of living raise in 2020. Negotiations started at the end of last month as TrasnDev reportedly offered a 1% wage increase.

DeRusha said Monday that negotiations would continue into the evening and that the most recent offer was for a 1.25% wage increase.

While higher pay is certainly at the top of their list, with the national average pay and average pay in the Roaring Fork Valley for bus drivers both reportedly more than $20 an hour, drivers also want better protection during the COVID pandemic.

Local 1776 members held a rally in downtown Grand Junction in July calling for hazard and pandemic pay for workers, better protection barriers for drivers and ultraviolet filters to improve current ones and kill the virus, a news release said, as well as on-site testing for drivers.

The news release voiced frustrations drivers were having over a lack of supplies, stating they received a small paper sack of COVID-19 items, which included a small bottle of home-made hand sanitizer, two cloth masks donated by Western Colorado Community College, with one replacement filter and instructions, in April.

“We, the members of the local ATU 1776, want to take our concerns to the public, since our elected officials have turned a deaf ear so far,” the July release said.

At the August Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee meeting, which serves as the governing board for the GVT, several people spoke about concerns they had regarding how the workforce was being protected.

Dana Martinez, an employee for GVT, said that drivers started making their own masks and face shields, and came up with the idea of using shower curtains as barriers for the driver seats, according to the meeting minutes.

She said half of the workforce is over 60 years old and it took more than two months to get masks mandatory on the buses.

”I’ve never seen such uncaring people as I do now. There would be no GVT without our drivers and all those comments that passengers say about us is true. We care about these people,” she said.

According to the GVT website, wearing a mask or face covering when riding the bus has been required since May 13. Pulling your shirt up over your face has not been considered an acceptable face covering on Grand Valley Transit since July 21, the website states.

At that same meeting Dursha and Scott Beilfuss, Democrat candidate for the House of Representatives District 55 who lost to Janice Rich in November, also discussed the need for better pay and protections for drivers.

In the summer of 2019, the union authorized, then avoided, a strike over wages.